Tag Archives: United States Navy

Eugene Andrew Cernan (14 March 1934–16 January 2017)

Eugene A. Cernan, Mission Commander, inside the Lunar Module Challenger after the third EVA, 13 December 1972. (Harrison H. Schmitt/NASA)
Eugene Andrew Cernan (The Provi of 1952)

Eugene Andrew Cernan was born at Chicago, Illinois, 14 March 1934. He was the second child of Andrew George Cernan, a manufacturing foreman, and Rose A. Cihlar Cernan. Gene Cernan graduated from Proviso East High School, Maywood, Illinois, in 1952.

Cernan entered Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, as an engineering student. He was a midshipman in the U.S. Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), and a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (ΦΓΔ) , serving as treasurer. He was also president of the Quarterdeck Society and the Scabbard and Blade, and a member of the Phi Eta Sigma (ΦΗΣ) honor society and Tau Beta Pi (ΤΒΠ) engineering honor society. He served on the military ball committee and was a member of the Skull and Crescent leadership honor society. During his Midshipman Cruise in 1955, Cernan served aboard the Worcester-class light cruiser USS Roanoke (CL-145). Cernan graduated from Purdue in 1956 with Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering (B.S.E.E.).

Cernan was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy, 2 June 1956, and was assigned to flight training. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 1 December 1957. Lieutenant Cernan completed flight school and qualified as Naval Aviator. He was assigned to Attack Squadron 126 (VA-126) at NAS Miramar, San Diego, California, flying the North American Aviation FJ-4B Fury. On 1 June 1960, Cernan was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

North American Aviation FJ-4B Fury of VA-126, circa 1960. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Eugene A. Cernan married Miss Barbara Jean Atchley, 6 May 1960, at San Diego. Mrs. Cernan was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. They would have a daughter, Tracy. The Cernans divorced 7 July 1981.

Lieutenant Cernan was next assigned to Attack Squadron 113 (VFA-113) at NAS Lemoore, California. VFA-113 (“Stingers”) flew the Douglas A-4C Skyhawk, and deployed aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19).

Eugene A. Cernan, NASA Astronaut, circa 1964. (NASA)

Cernan earned a Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, in 1963.

In October 1963, Lieutenant Cernan was selected as an Astronaut for the National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA). He was one of 14 members of NASA Astronaut Group 3, which was announced 18 October 1963.

Gene Cernan was promoted to the rank of commander, United States Navy, 3 June 1966. He flew as pilot of Gemini IX-A, 3-6 June 1966. (Thomas P. Stafford was the command pilot.) The mission included a rendezvous with a Lockheed Agena target vehicle. A planned docking with the Agena could not be carried out because the docking shroud had failed to deploy correctly. On 6 June, Cernan conducted an “EVA” (Extravehicular Activity, of “space walk”). During the 2 hour, 7 minute EVA, numerous difficulties were encountered.

Astronaut Gene Cernan outside the Gemini IX-A capsule in earth orbit, 6 June 1966, (NASA S66-38515)
In a ceremony held at The Pentagon, Admiral David L. McDonald, Chief of Naval Operations, pins astronaut wings on Commander Eugene A. Cernan, 26 July 1966. (Corpus Christi Caller-Times)

Commander Cernan was next assigned as the backup pilot of Gemini XII and backup lunar module pilot of Apollo 7.

Gene Cernan was the Lunar Module pilot of Apollo 10, the full rehearsal for the first lunar landing, 18 May–26 May 1969. He flew the LM Snoopy to 47,400 feet (14,445 meters) above the lunar surface at 21:29:43 UTC, 22 May.

Apollo 10 Lunar Module Snoopy photographed by John Watts Young just after separation from the Command and Service Module Charlie Brown. Gene Cernan can be seen in the window on the left. (NASA)

Cernan was promoted to the rank of captain, United States Navy, 10 July 1970. He was next assigned as the backup to Alan B. Shepard as mission commander for Apollo 14.

On 23 January 1971, Cernan was flying a Bell Model 47G-3B-1 helicopter, NASA 947 (N947NA, serial number 6665), on a proficiency flight, when it crashed in the Indian River near Malabar, Florida. The helicopter was destroyed and Cernan was slightly injured. The official investigation reported the cause as a “misjudgement in estimating altitude.” In his autobiography, Cernan wrote,

Without ripples, the water provided no depth perception and my eyes looked straight through the clear surface to the reflective river bottom. I had lost sight of the water.

The Last Man on the Moon, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999, Chapter 25 at Page 258

Captain Eugene A. Cernan, U.S.N., in the cockpit of NASA 947, a Bell 47G-3B-1, as it hovers in ground effect, circa 1971. (NASA)

Gene Cernan’s third space flight was as commander of Apollo 17, 6–19 December 1972, with Ronald E. Evans as Command Module pilot and Harrison H. Schmitt as the Lunar Module pilot. Cernan and Schmitt were on the surface of the Moon for 3 days, 2 hours, 59 minutes, 40 seconds. During that time they made three excursions outside the lunar lander, totaling 22 hours, 3 minutes 57 seconds.

Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the Moon in the Twentieth Century. Gene Cernan was the last man to stand on the surface of the Moon.

Eugene A. Cernan at the Taurus-Littrow Valley during the third EVA of the Apollo 17 mission. (Harrison H. Schmitt/NASA)

Gene Cernan retired from the United States Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1 July 1976. According to his NASA biography, Cernan had logged 566 hours, 15 minutes of space flight.

In 1987 Cernan married Jan Nanna (née Janis E. _) at Sun Valley, Idaho. She had two daughters, Kelly and Daniele, from a previous marriage.

Captain Eugene Andrew Cernan, United States Navy (Retired) died at a hospital in Houston, Texas. His remains were buried at the Texas State Cemetery at Austin, Texas.

Eugene Andrew Cernan (NASA)

© 2018 Bryan R.. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A Hypersonic Research Rocketplane

Rollout AFFTC History Office
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1, 56-6670, at Los Angeles Division, October 1958. (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)

20 December 1968: After 199 flights, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration cancelled the X-15 Hypersonic Research Program. A 200th X-15 flight had been scheduled, but after several delays, the decision was made to end the program. (The last actual flight attempt was 12 December 1968, but snow at several of the dry lakes used as emergency landing areas resulted in the flight being cancelled.)

The X-15A rocketplane was designed and built for the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the predecessor of NASA) by North American Aviation, Inc., to investigate the effects of hypersonic flight (Mach 5+). Design work started in 1955 and a mock-up had been completed after just 12 months. The three X-15s were built at North American’s Los Angeles Division, at the southeast corner of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), on the shoreline of southern California.

The first flight took place 8 June 1959 with former NACA test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Number 1 ship, 56-6670.

Scott Crossfield prepares for a flight in the North American Aviation X-15A.

While earlier rocketplanes, the Bell X-1 series, the the Douglas D-558-II, and the Bell X-2, were airplanes powered by rocket engines, the X-15 was a quantum leap in technology. It was a spacecraft.

Like the other rocketplanes, the X-15 was designed to be carried aloft by a “mothership,” rather than to takeoff and climb to the test altitude under its own power. The carrier aircraft was originally to be a Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber but this was soon changed to a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Two B-52s were modified to carry the X-15: NB-52A 52-003, The High and Mighty One, and NB-52B 52-008, Balls 8.

From 8 June 1959 to 24 October 1968, the three X-15s were flown by twelve test pilots, three of whom would qualify as astronauts in the X-15. Two would go on to the Apollo Program, and one, Neil Alden Armstrong, would be the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969. Joe Engle would fly the space shuttle. Four of the test pilots, Petersen, White, Rushworth, and Knight, flew in combat during the Vietnam War, with Bob White being awarded the Air Force Cross. Petersen, Rushworth and White reached flag rank.

One pilot, John B. (“Jack”) McKay, was seriously injured during an emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada, 9 November 1962. Another, Michael James Adams, was killed when the Number 3 ship, 56-6672, went into a hypersonic spin and broke up on the program’s 191st flight, 15 November 1967.

North American Aviation, Inc. X-15A 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA Image E-5251)

Flown by a single pilot/astronaut, the X-15 is a mid-wing monoplane with dorsal and ventral fin/rudders and stabilators. The wing had no dihdral, while the stabilators had a pronounced -15° anhedral. The short wings have an area of 200 square feet (18.58 square meters) and a maximum thickness of just 5%. The leading edges are swept to 25.64°. There are two small flaps but no ailerons. The entire vertical fin/rudder pivots for yaw control.

Above 100,000 feet (30,840 meters) altitude, conventional aircraft flight control surfaces are ineffective. The X-15 is equipped with a system of reaction control jets for pitch, roll and yaw control. Hydrogen peroxide was passed through a catalyst to produce steam, which supplied the control thrusters.

The forward landing gear consists of a retractable oleo strut with steerable dual wheels and there are two strut/skids at the rear of the fuselage. The gear is retracted after the X-15 is mounted on the NB-52 and is extended for landing by its own weight.

 North American Aviation X-15A 56-6672 touches down on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-3 56-6672 just before touch down on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA Image E-7469)

The rocketplane’s cockpit featured both a conventional control stick as well as side-controllers. It was pressurized with nitrogen gas to prevent fires. The pilot wore an MC-2 full-pressure suit manufactured by the David Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, with an MA-3 helmet. The suit was pressurized below the neck seal with nitrogen, while the helmet was supplied with 100% oxygen. This pressure suit was later changed to the Air Force-standardized A/P22S.

X-15A cockpit with original Lear Siegler instrument panel. (NASA)
X-15 cockpit with original Lear Siegler instrument panel. (NASA image E63-9834)

The X-15 is 50.75 feet (15.469 meters) long with a wing span of 22.36 feet (6.815 meters). The height—the distance between the tips of the dorsal and ventral fins—is 13.5 feet (4.115 meters). The stabilator span is 18.08 feet (5.511 meters). The fuselage is 4.67 feet (1.423 meters) deep and has a maximum width of 7.33 feet (2.234 meters).

Since the X-15 was built of steel rather than light-weight aluminum, as are most aircraft, it is a heavy machine, weighing approximately 14,600 pounds (6,623 kilograms) empty and 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) when loaded with a pilot and propellants. The X-15s carried as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of research instrumentation, and the equipment varied from flight to flight. The minimum flight weight (for high-speed missions): 31,292 pounds (14,194 kilograms) The maximum weight was 52,117 pounds (23,640 kilograms) at drop (modified X-15A-2 with external propellant tanks).

Initial flights were flown with a 5 foot, 11 inch (1.803 meters)-long air data boom at the nose, but this would later be replaced by the “ball nose” air sensor system. The data boom contained a standard pitot-static system along with angle-of-attack and sideslip vanes. The boom and ball nose were interchangeable.

Neil Armstrong with the first North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6670, on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight, 1960. His hand is resting on the rocketplane's ball nose sensor. (NASA)
NASA Research Test Pilot Neil A. Armstrong with the first North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6670, on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight, 1960. His right hand is resting on the rocketplane’s ball nose sensor. (NASA Image E60-6286)

The X-15s were built primarily of a nickel/chromium/iron alloy named Inconel X, along with corrosion-resistant steel, titanium and aluminum. Inconel X is both very hard and also able to maintain its strength at the very high temperatures the X-15s were subjected to by aerodynamic heating. It was extremely difficult to machine and special fabrication techniques had to be developed.

Delays in the production of the planned Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine forced engineers to adapt two vertically-stacked Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-13 four-chamber rocket engines to the X-15 for early flights. This was a well-known engine which was used on the previous rocketplanes. The XLR11 burned a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Each of the engines’ chambers could be ignited individually. Each engine was rated at 11,800 pounds of thrust (58.49 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

Two Reaction Motors Division XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines installed on an X-15. (NASA)
Two Reaction Motors Division XLR11-RM-13 four-chamber rocket engines installed on an X-15. The speed brakes of the ventral fin are shown in the open position. (NASA)

The Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine was throttleable by the pilot from 28,500 to 60,000 pounds of thrust (126.77–266.89 kilonewtons). The engine was rated at 50,000 pounds of thrust (222.41 kilonewtons) at Sea Level; 57,000 pounds (253.55 kilonewtons) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters), the typical drop altitude; and 57,850 pounds (257.33 kilonewtons) of thrust at 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). Individual engines varied slightly. A few produced as much as 61,000 pounds of thrust (271.34 kilonewtons).

The XLR99 burned anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen. The flame temperature was approximately 5,000 °F. (2,760 °C.) The engine was cooled with circulating liquid oxygen. To protect the exhaust nozzle, it was flame-sprayed with ceramic coating of zirconium dioxide. The engine is 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and 3 feet, 3.3 inches (0.998 meters) in diameter. It weighs 910 pounds (413 kilograms). The Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is 1 hour of operation, or 100 starts.

Thiokol Reaction Motors Division XLR-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)
Thiokol Corporation Reaction Motors Division XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)

The XLR99 proved to be very reliable. 169 X-15 flights were made using the XLR99. 165 of these had successful engine operation. It started on the first attempt 159 times.

The highest speed achieved during the program was with the modified number two ship, X-15A-2 56-6671, flown by Pete Knight to Mach 6.70 (6,620 feet per second/4,520 miles per hour/7,264 kilometers per hour) at 102,700 feet (31,303 meters). On this flight, the rocketplane exceeded its maximum design speed of 6,600 feet per second (2,012 meters per second).

The maximum altitude was reached by Joe Walker, 22 August 1963, when he flew 56-6672 to 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).

The longest flight was flown by Neil Armstrong, 20 April 1962, with a duration of 12 minutes, 28.7 seconds.

North American Aviation X-15A-1 56-6670 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. X-15A-2 56-6671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

A North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre chase plane follows NB-52A 52-003 prior to launch of an X-15. (NASA)
A North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre chase plane follows NB-52A 52-003 prior to launch of an X-15. (NASA)

Recommended reading:

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960

At The Edge Of Space, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992

X-15 Diary: The Story of America’s First Spaceship, by Richard Tregaskis, E.F. Dutton & Company,  New York, 1961; University of Nebraska Press, 2004

X-15: Exploring the Frontiers of Flight, by David R. Jenkins, National Aeronautics and Space Administration http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/470842main_X_15_Frontier_of_Flight.pdf

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space, by Michelle Evans, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2013

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.18.14
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-2 56-6671 accelerates after igniting its Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

18 November 1923–21 July 1998

Alan Shepard suited up before the launch of Apollo 14. (NASA)
Alan Shepard suited up before the launch of Apollo 14. (NASA)


PERSONAL DATA: Born November 18, 1923, in East Derry, New Hampshire. Died on July 21, 1998. His wife, Louise, died on August 25, 1998. They are survived by daughters Julie, Laura and Alice, and six grandchildren.

EDUCATION: Attended primary and secondary schools in East Derry and Derry, New Hampshire; received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1944, an Honorary Master of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1962, and Honorary Doctorate of Science from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 1971, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Franklin Pierce College in 1972. Graduated Naval Test Pilot School in 1951; Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island in 1957.

ORGANIZATIONS: Fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots; member of the Rotary, the Kiwanis, the Mayflower Society, the Order of the Cincinnati, and the American Fighter Aces; honorary member, Board of Directors for the Houston School for Deaf Children, Director, National Space Institute, and Director, Los Angeles Ear Research Institute.

SPECIAL HONORS: Congressional Medal of Honor (Space); Awarded two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Navy Astronaut Wings, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross; recipient of the Langley Medal (highest award of the Smithsonian Institution) on May 5, 1964, the Lambert Trophy, the Kinchloe Trophy, the Cabot Award, the Collier Trophy, the City of New York Gold Medal (1971), Achievement Award for 1971. Shepard was appointed by the President in July 1971 as a delegate to the 26th United Nations General Assembly and served through the entire assembly which lasted from September to December 1971.

EXPERIENCE: Shepard began his naval career, after graduation from Annapolis, on the destroyer COGSWELL, deployed in the pacific during World War II. He subsequently entered flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas, and Pensacola, Florida, and received his wings in 1947. His next assignment was with Fighter Squadron 42 at Norfolk, Virginia, and Jacksonville, Florida. He served several tours aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean while with this squadron.

In 1950, he attended the United States Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduation, he participated in flight test work which included high- altitude tests to obtain data on light at different altitudes and on a variety of air masses over the American continent; and test and development experiments of the Navy’s in-flight refueling system, carrier suitability trails of the F2H3 Banshee, and Navy trials of the first angled carrier deck. He was subsequently assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 at Moffett Field, California, a night fighter unit flying Banshee jets. As operations officer of this squadron, he made two tours to the Western pacific onboard the carrier ORISKANY.

He returned to Patuxent for a second tour of duty and engaged in flight testing the F3H Demon, F8U Crusader, F4D Skyray, and F11F Tigercat. He was also project test pilot on the F5D Skylancer, and his last five months at Patuxent were spent as an instructor in the Test Pilot School. He later attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and upon graduating in 1957 was subsequently assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, as aircraft readiness officer.

He has logged more than 8,000 hours flying time–3,700 hours in jet aircraft.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Rear Admiral Shepard was one of the Mercury astronauts named by NASA in April 1959, and he holds the distinction of being the first American to journey into space. On May 5, 1961, in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, he was launched by a Redstone vehicle on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight–a flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range.

In 1963, he was designated Chief of the Astronaut Office with responsibility for monitoring the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts. This included monitoring the development and implementation of effective training programs to assure the flight readiness of available pilot/non-pilot personnel for assignment to crew positions on manned space flights; furnishing pilot evaluations applicable to the design, construction, and operations of spacecraft systems and related equipment; and providing qualitative scientific and engineering observations to facilitate overall mission planning, formulation of feasible operational procedures, and selection and conduct of specific experiments for each flight. He was restored to full flight status in May 1969, following corrective surgery for an inner ear disorder.

Shepard made his second space flight as spacecraft commander on Apollo 14, January 31 – February 9, 1971. He was accompanied on man’s third lunar landing mission by Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot, and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot. Maneuvering their lunar module, “Antares,” to a landing in the hilly upland Fra Mauro region of the moon, Shepard and Mitchell subsequently deployed and activated various scientific equipment and experiments and collected almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for return to earth. Other Apollo 14 achievements included: first use of Mobile Equipment Transporter (MET); largest payload placed in lunar orbit; longest distance traversed on the lunar surface; largest payload returned from the lunar surface; longest lunar surface stay time (33 hours); longest lunar surface EVA (9 hours and 17 minutes); first use of shortened lunar orbit rendezvous techniques; first use of colored TV with new vidicon tube on lunar surface; and first extensive orbital science period conducted during CSM solo operations.

Rear Admiral Shepard has logged a total of 216 hours and 57 minutes in space, of which 9 hours and 17 minutes were spent in lunar surface EVA.

He resumed his duties as Chief of the Astronaut Office in June 1971 and served in this capacity until he retired from NASA and the Navy on August 1, 1974.

Shepard was in private business in Houston, Texas. He served as the President of the Mercury Seven Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides college science scholarships for deserving students.

The above is the official NASA Biography of Alan Shepard from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center web site:


Rear Admiral Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., United States Navy.
Rear Admiral Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., United States Navy.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather